Hydrogen and administrative action
Licensing and zoning processes are generally considered very time-consuming parts of a project’s path from early planning to the launch of production. On the other hand, when preparing for major projects, meticulous planning in areas such as business, infrastructure, contracts, funding, and construction rarely happen very quickly. Comprehensive and easily available objective information on the effects of a project play key roles in keeping the share of activities by officials in the timeline of hydrogen projects to a minimum, and in building trust among different actors.
Major projects always have some environmental impact. Measures imposed by the authorities are aimed at ensuring that sufficient care is taken in the advance planning of projects to take environmental impact into account, including the needs of other actors and the needs for future development. In assessing the need to consider environmental impact, and in actual evaluation of environmental impact, consideration is given to whether a project has significant impact that would need to be minimised and compensated for, or which should otherwise be prepared for in the implementation of a project. In zoning, different kinds of forms of land use are merged, areas are set aside for production and the infrastructure needed by the project, while considering future needs for expansion. Emission levels for the activity are set when decisions on environmental permits are made. Building permit processes ensure that buildings are built to last and can be used safely. Without action by officials this kind of important advance planning could prove inadequate. At best, official action is a service in which an extended group of experts work together to create a framework for sustainable, safe, and smooth production.
Referral procedures bring added quality to official processes. However, in the worst of cases they can be very time-consuming in projects whose technology, needs, and effects are foreign to many of those issuing their opinions. When officials launch processes in hydrogen projects, each respective entity voicing views consider the matter from their own points of view. Great expectations are justifiably placed on the reliability of official statements. The production of hydrogen in Finland is still rare, and consequently it is new for the authorities as well. Collecting comprehensive objective information is laborious in the new area. Therefore development in the field, and more flexible official action would be supported by a broad-based and easily accessible bank of objective information.
So, what kind of information is needed? Key matters include information on how activities such as hydrogen production affect areas such as the environment, safety, and operational needs in normal and exceptional situations. In zoning projects, for example, statements are requested from experts, officials, and actors responsible for environmental action, transport planning, water supply and flood protection, land use, energy services, telecommunications, fire and rescue activities, the security field, and construction/building supervision. Each entity bears responsibility for giving a statement evaluating the effects of the project from the point of view of their own field. When drafting a statement legislation, regulations, research, planning guides, reports, documents of previously implemented processes, and other information is examined as objectively as possible. An extensive compilation of this kind of material should be collected for the data bank.
Decisions on permits and zoning also involve municipal policy decisions and review procedures. Information of good quality that is publicly available can help avert complaints, and data banks also serve the needs of judicial review professionals. Objective information in an understandable form should be available so that both official bodies as well as ordinary citizens and municipal decision-makers can get as accurate a view of the effects and the possibilities of minimisation and compensation.
There are effective channels in Finland for familiarising large numbers of officials with key information. For example, the Ministry of the Environment organises training days in different sectors for government officials, who in turn arrange training days for regional authorities. Negotiation days are popular events which are attended for information on new regulations, themes, research, and projects, and to meet colleagues. Labour unions in different fields, such as building inspectors, regularly arrange training events for those working in the field. A foundation for general information on hydrogen production could be established quickly among officials by inviting TUKES, a key safety authority, to speak at events.
In addition to information that is comprehensive, of high quality, and easily accessible, processes can be streamlined through planning that considers the needs, concerns, and points of view of others. The timely sharing objective information on the benefits and drawbacks of projects, as well as an attitude of respect toward other actors, help in building trust among project actors, authorities, citizens, and municipal decision-makers. Information that provides a safe basis for making decisions, and an ability of project leaders to empathise are key factors in making hydrogen projects run more smoothly.
Development Director, City of Kauhajoki.